Webinar platforms have come a long way since Microsoft first launched its video conferencing software NetMeeting in 1996, but the core idea remains unchanged.
Over 25 years later, the webinar format is still relevant because it continues to offer an effective way to connect with audiences.
Modern webinars are powerful training, education, communications, and marketing tools. They allow audiences to engage with a presenter through polls, surveys, and direct questions, which the presenter can react to in real time.
Webinars can also generate leads, raise awareness, teach skills, and demonstrate products. Their direct-to-camera presentation often makes webinars feel authentic and personal, even when pre-recorded. By connecting with audiences this way, webinars help build brands.
As a marketing tool, webinars allow for hands-on product demonstrations, detailed explanations of a given service, and even Q&A sessions. If done well, they can deliver real content of value while simultaneously promoting a product or service.
Webinars can also be used as teaching tools for educational institutions, online courses, and training centers. They are particularly effective for conducting guest lectures, which helps universities invite subject matter experts around the world to participate via the internet.
Despite the versatility of its application, webinar software is relatively straightforward. However, there are many different kinds of webinars you can host, so it’s important to be aware of the best practices of each.
The Only 5 Webinar Types
1. Live webinars
Live webinars are real-time events, which means hosting them can sometimes feel daunting. At the same time, the live format comes with some distinct advantages.
First of all, a live webinar is the best type of webinar for audience interaction. Participants can ask questions, answer polls, and engage with the presenter and content as it’s coming in. This feels authentic and keeps everyone involved—at least more involved than they otherwise might have been with pre-recorded content.
By holding an audience’s attention more effectively, live webinars can also help presenters connect with other participants on a more personal level. This connection makes live webinars a valuable community-building tool.
For example, the creative software suite Adobe often holds live webinars to showcase new features, deliver tutorials, and build a community around its products.
2. On-demand webinars
The primary benefit of on-demand webinars is flexible access to the content. Online learning platforms, business consultants, and software-as-a-service (SaaS) providers often have libraries of in-depth lessons, tutorials, and seminars as on-demand webinars.
This is great for students, as many of them prefer to access lessons, tutorials, and seminars at their own pace and on their own schedule. Furthermore, many will want the ability to watch certain presentations multiple times. These benefits are typically only possible with on-demand webinars.
Microsoft is a good example of a company that hosts a library of on-demand webinars to guide users through its products and services. These tutorials help individuals and businesses get the most out of their Microsoft products, and they may also contribute to building brand loyalty.
3. Simulated live webinars
Simulated live webinars are pre-recorded presentations that go live at scheduled times. While these events don’t feature a live presenter, attendees can still participate in polls and surveys during the live presentation.
Simulated live webinars can help businesses reach audiences across multiple time zones. The pre-recorded format also means you can deploy the same content multiple times to different audiences.
Simulated live webinars are ideal when companies want to drive engagement without hosting live events. For instance, Amazon Web Services (AWS) uses simulated live webinars to teach users to leverage the power of its cloud technology. These technical workshops train users to deploy applications and use AWS tools.
4. Hybrid webinars
Hybrid webinars are a combination of live presentations and pre-recorded segments. This solution allows for the convenience of polished, pre-recorded content and facilitates interaction with audiences during live sections.
With the right software and preparation, hybrid webinars can get the best of both worlds. It strikes a balance between flexibility and convenience.
HubSpot does a decent job of using hybrid webinars to introduce new products and services. Its webinars balance managing the company’s messaging, building its community, and answering customer questions.
5. Virtual workshop webinars
Virtual workshop webinars entail group discussion and practical exercises. Usually, an instructor or subject matter expert leads these workshops, and they aim to give attendees hands-on experience with whatever the subject is that’s being presented.
The virtual workshop webinar format is great because it allows participants to engage in interactive learning worldwide.
Coursera, for example, runs virtual workshop webinars on topics like programming and business development that you can access from anywhere. These workshops often include things like interactive coding challenges, group discussions, and other hands-on activities.
The 4 Standard Webinar Formats
Most webinars have either a single presenter or a panel conducting some kind of product demo or an interview. The format that works best for your business ultimately depends on your content, goals, and audience.
Some webinar software allows you to mix formats. A panel discussion followed by a Q&A is a typical example of a mixed-format webinar.
Webinars with a single presenter require one person to run the show. This person will present the content, engage with the audience, and facilitate further discussions. For big-ticket product demos and advanced lectures, single presenter webinars can be an effective way for experts to communicate their messages without distractions.
However, the success of a single-presenter webinar also hinges on the quality of that presenter. Being a top expert in your field does not always translate to being great at public speaking.
Nevertheless, when an individual has both expertise and communication skills, presenting webinars in this way is effective—especially for interactive workshop webinars.
Similarly, single-presenter webinars can also work well for product and service demonstrations. The format allows a single figure to focus on the benefits and features of the product or service in question without being interrupted.
Panel discussion webinars invite groups of experts or thought leaders to participate in open, guided conversations. When each panelist brings a unique perspective, the discussion can be dynamic and engaging for audiences.
Unfortunately, panel discussions are notoriously hard to prepare for—because when multiple people discuss a topic, it always leaves room for tangents, misunderstandings, and confusion.
A good moderator can mitigate the drawbacks of panel discussion webinars. This individual can help the group remain focused by adhering to a predetermined format.
Overall, panel discussions work well for topics with a diversity of opinions and a constant flow of innovation. Technology and healthcare are two common examples.
Demo webinars showcase the benefits of new products or services, typically stressing the value proposition of the product. These can be an excellent marketing tool, as they give the presentera way to guide the audience through the problem-agitation-solution model.
Much like other marketing material, demo webinars can also include a call-to-action (CTA).
Software and technology companies are typically best-suited for deploying demo webinars. The format is an excellent way to showcase new features and functionalities.
Ask me anything (AMA)
AMA webinars create direct engagement between the host and the audience. They provide a transparent platform where customers can ask questions directly and out in the open. To provide for these webinars, many hosts will ask attendees to post questions on social media or in a live chat beforehand.
AMA webinars are an excellent tool for building trust and creating a reputation of authenticity. They’re also unpredictable, as there’s no way of knowing what the audience may say in an open floor setting.
Startups and tech companies with innovative products can get a lot of benefit from AMA webinars. By answering questions on-the-spot, these companies can gain trust and build their brand.
Best Practices for Hosting a Webinar
1. Do a dry run
Rehearsing alone doesn’t always compare to presenting in front of a live audience. Before executing a live webinar, it’s a good idea to practice with an audience. This can be your own team or a business partner, just not your own reflection in the mirror.
Many webinars are interactive by design, which can be difficult to simulate. A dry run lets you familiarize yourself with the webinar platform’s features like screen sharing and live chats. This familiarity makes your transitions smoother during the actual event. You can also iron out any kinks with hardware and connectivity.
Keep in mind that you don’t have to do everything in the practice run. Just focus on the major points of your presentation as you test out its mechanics, transitions, and time management aspects.
2. Feature engaging content formats
People respond best to different kinds of information. Some are auditory learners, some are visual learners, and some learn best through interaction. Using slides, videos, graphs, and images keeps users engaged.
Interactive elements like polls and Q&As can also help.
3. Use storytelling
Humans respond better to character-driven stories than dry facts. Tell the authentic story of why you’re there and what motivates you. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. People respond well to authenticity.
Tell the audience about your humble beginnings as a business owner, assuming you have them. If you’re showcasing a product, focus on the people the product helps.
Jump between the problem and solution during your presentation. Audiences switch off when there’s no dramatic tension. Don’t be afraid to tell audiences about the barriers and troubles you’ve faced.
At the end of the presentation, finish with a call to action (CTA).
4. Pay attention to branding
No matter how far along your business is, consistent branding pays off. Be mindful of where you place your company logo, what fonts you use, and how all the visual elements tie together.
If in doubt, ask someone from the graphic design department to look over your presentation before it begins. Make sure to give yourself plenty of time to make adjustments as needed.
5. Pay attention to sound quality
Low-quality, muffled, or inconsistent sound will make your audience disengage, so make sure you have decent equipment if your laptop’s built-in hardware isn’t great.
Your voice sounds best when it’s producing a strong signal without clipping. Audio monitoring software visualizes this using the green-amber-red system. You want your voice to light up the green section of the visualization without going into the red.
Practicing speech at the volume you’ll use during the webinar is essential. Note the settings, your distance from the microphone, and anything else that could produce an inconsistent sound experience for your audience.
Just remember, good audio can save bad video, and bad audio can ruin good video.